Language and Oppression

What a stupid title? How can language be oppressive?; a ridiculous notion.

It is not such an obvious idea, but there is clear evidence, both empirical (physical) and ontological (knowledge based/ideas). The preceding sentence is a clear example. A lot of people would not have come across these words before and as a result the sentence has no meaning for them. As a result understanding is lost. In such a chain of events it is not long before genuine choice is lost.

After a while the history of language becomes the history of obfuscation (?), the camouflage of intended meaning, the disguise of simplicity. A lot of this is connected to those who are in a position of power, who are able to educate their young, and those who are not. A cycle develops. The same young repeat the sins of their fathers. They over complicate ideas, flattering themselves that they are the elite who can understand them and the majority can not. Time passes and it becomes ingrained into both culture and politics.

Ideas are never, at their fundamental level, that complicated. It needs only a few questions to reveal them for what they are. Reducing ideas to understandable steps quite often opposes the interests of the idea creator. For the tyrant it it quite important his population goes along with him passively. This is achieved not by simplifying ideas but by making them complex and adopting the guise that he is a clever man. It becomes embarrassing to admit that one does not understand the idea. By doing so it appears one is admitting to stupidity and there are few people who don’t cringe at such a charge. Such situations can be heard on the radio every day. The interviewer asks for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer: it is very rare that he gets one.

Ideas from people who have no interest outside of the idea itself often have their words hi-jacked and outside agendas suddenly come into play. As a society we acknowledge this and accommodate it. We understand what ‘jargon’ and ‘buzzwords’ are. We accept them. There was a man called Ettiene Cadillac, 16th century, who made the point that people used jargon in ‘specialist’ areas before they had composed and defined the jargon. Therefore it had no absolute meaning, but depended very much upon context, which was changing all of the time. It meant no-one would ever be able to understand the jargon. Whether ‘jargon composing’ was by design or accident has never been explored, but I wonder whose interests were furthered by it.

Language is, in its simplicity, a form of communication. It is not a great one because it promotes dishonesty, whether accidentally or deliberately. Quite often words will not express genuine thought or intention. It is this characteristic of language which has been taken by the power hungry, over the centuries, and has developed into a tool of oppression. This is done in two ways: over-complicating ideas which re-enforces elitism, causing both elite and oppressed to genuinely believe in the superiority of the elite’s minds and secondly disguising the true meaning of certain words and ideas as a way of manipulating the majority underclass.

These two methods are so ingrained in society that no-one can any longer identify them. Our systems of education, which favours the privileged, is a legitimate tool to achieve this end: they reproduce the social structures of class and further the use of language as an oppressive tool.

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2 thoughts on “Language and Oppression

  1. Richard William Posner

    Once again, you’re quite correct. Esoteric language, specialist jargon, is very often, though not always, purposed specifically to intimidate, defraud and oppress the “lay person”.

    One of my favourite examples of this is “economics”.

    From a work in progress;
    “Begin with two columns of numbers.
    One column contains the amount you have earned; the second column the amount you have spent.
    At the end of the quarter, week, month, year or whatever period you prefer, add up these two columns and compare the totals. If all has gone well, what you have earned will be greater than what you have spent or at least equal to it.
    That is economics in its entirety. If you can balance your checkbook, congratulations, you’re an economist.
    Everything else is pure bullshit. All the products, credit default swaps, asset-backed securities, options, futures, credit derivatives, currency trading, formula systems, hedge funds, fractional reserve banking, interest rates, compound interest, the entire encyclopedia of Wall Street mumbo jumbo, all manner of obscure jargon and outright fraud woven from whole cloth, are nothing more than the deceitful machinations of a long line of thieves and swindlers that can be traced back at least unto ancient Egypt.

    Economics = Hocus Pocus / Voodoo / Religion.”

    Reply

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